"I am happy that I finally got the last remembrance of my husband back after 13 years of struggle," octogenarian Brahmi Devi, widow of an Indian soldier, Naik Kirpa Ram, whose posthumously-awarded George Cross bravery medal was "stolen" 13 years ago, said on Monday.Having run from pillar to post to retrieve the medal, stolen in 2002 and later listed for auction in Britain in 2009, the 80-year-old frail woman stood brave as she was handed over the medal by Brigadier Brian McCall, defence attache at the British High Commission, at public ceremony in her native village in Bilaspur district.Naik Kirpa Ram was awarded the George Cross, the civilian equivalent of Britain's highest military decoration - the Victoria Cross - for sacrificing his life to save his comrades while disposing of a misfired rifle grenade at a camp in Bangalore on September 12, 1945.
Brahmi Devi had received the medal from the then viceroy, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, in 1946. She was just 13 at the time.
"It's a great moment for us that we could retrieve the medal. It's an example of Indo-UK cooperation. We are proud to give it back. I appreciate the courage and spirit of the old woman," Brig. McCall said as he recognised that the medal could be finally reached with the help of the police in Himachal Pradesh and in Britain and the British High Commission.British barrister Ian Mayes, who fought Brahmi Devi's case 'pro bono' (without fee), said at the ceremony: "It happened for the first time that I fought a case without meeting my client."He said names of martyred Indian soldiers were inscribed on a memorial in London and Naik Kirpa Ram's name was also there.British Deputy High Commissioner David Lelliott, based in Chandigarh was among those present at the ceremony.
Though whistle-blower Shakti Singh Chandel, who pursued the matter single-handedly when the stolen medal landed in an auction house and stalled its auction, and some other people who played an important role in retrieving the medal were not invited to the function, it carried a lot of emotional appeal.An emotional Brahmi Devi said: "Now I will not allow the medal to get lost."Born in 1916, Kirpa Ram volunteered to join the British Indian Army and during World War II, was posted with the 8th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles.He saw action in Burma and on his return to India, during a field firing exercise, a rifle grenade misfired and fell only a few yards away from his unit.
The 28-year-old Kirpa Ram rushed forward, shouting at his colleagues to take cover and attempted to throw it to a secure distance but it exploded in his hand and led to his death, the high commission said.However, his self-sacrifice saved lives of his unit members. The posthumous George Cross award was announced on March 15, 1946.The medal had apparently been stolen from the soldier's village residence in 2002 and a first information report (FIR) was lodged in the area police station by Brahmi Devi.Although investigations were undertaken at the time, no trace was found until the medal resurfaced for auction in London in late 2009, said the high commission.Members of the Indian community in London have raised a charity of 12,000 pounds (over Rs.10 lakh) to procure the medal from Ashok Nath, a former Indian Army officer who purchased it from an antique shop in Delhi.
The issue of the stolen medal came to light when Britain's leading auction house Dix Noonan Webb listed the medal for auction on December 2, 2009.When the controversy arose, the head of the auctioneer, based in Mayfair, had then said the medal was "disposed of" by his widow in 2000 - and not stolen from her house as she claims.Later, on the intervention of the Indian government, the British authorities ordered the medal be withdrawn from the auction.